Product Management at Sybase

May 13, 2009

As I sit here and ponder about my next work term, I realize that my view of Product Management (also referred to as Program Management or PM) has broadened throughout the course of my last work term. After my experience at Sybase, I can say that my glimpse into the PM world has stirred in me a desire to pursue a similar position.

I saw that PM is a very unique role in the technology industry. Although it is not compulsory to have a PM team, like it is to have a development team, I think that all software companies should adopt a team of product managers. Why? Because it is the PM’s responsibility to link the market needs with the code in the software. That is not to say that they write the code themselves, but rather they communicate effectively with the developers so that features can be implemented that satisfy the customers.

It is just as important to have people who develop the vision, write out the specs and work with the customers, as it is to have people who write the software. The PM’s and the developers are not rivals, but co-exist mutually in harmony [sort of]. Although the two parties may not see eye-to-eye on some decisions, the best features usually come out from constructive disputes during a brainstorming session.

This term proved to be a great learning experience and one of my busiest terms. I had the opportunity to work on a number of interesting projects:

– A proof-of-concept port of phpBB with offline synchronization
– Usability testing on the customer install/upgrade experience for the latest minor release
– Online PHP Developer Centre
– Features that would increase SQL Anywhere’s web server compatibility
– Customer demos and code samples-
– Whitepaper to get more out of the SQL Anywhere Monitor
– Edited a developer viewpoint
– Developed a prototype of a tool that addresses inquiries by potential customers and solves 30%-40% of the problems in the online forums
– Utility for Sybase’s latest announcement with Amazon Web Services

Many times, I worked closely with software developers to ensure that the functional specifications were met. That is, the feature will work the way a customer expects.

I learned that the build or install team plays a crucial part in a software company because their work is the first aspect of the product a potential customer encounters. If the install fails or it is unintuitive, what does that say about the product itself? First impressions are crucial. That’s why our installation process had to be put through careful usability testing.

I also met with members of the documentation team to make sure that they understood how my whitepapers would be presented (consistent form, terminology, and tone).

I finished off the term by doing some work for Sybase’s first venture into Cloud computing. I think it’s a huge step for Sybase as they announced earlier today that they’re working with Amazon Web Services to offer Sybase software in Amazon Elastic Compute (EC2) environments. It’s really awesome to be able to work on things that count and reflect the direction of the company.

The greatest part was seeing how my contributions were affecting the final product. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about – a better product. My manager once told me, “As PM’s, our job is to make the product better for future customers.” So that takes foresight, creativity and some risk-taking. It may not always work as you planned, but when it does, it is extremely rewarding.

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